Conference 2015

Secularism in the Modern World – Melbourne – 2015

Papers submitted by speakers:

  • Keynote speaker: Professor Spencer Zifcak
  • Rosslyn Ives – Council of Australian Humanist Societies
  • Lev Lafayette – President of Victorian Secular Lobby
  • Lara Wood – Coordinator of parent action group FIRIS
  • Dr Paul Tonson – Administrator of the Pathways for Diversity Education in Schools
  • Ashraful Alam
  • Shubhajit Bhowmik
  • Umair Baig on secularism and Pakistan
  • Peter Farago


This conference will focus on the challenges we face in a globalised world of different faiths and worldviews.  How can we all live peacefully together and work towards solving the global challenges we face.

When:   Saturday, 31 October 2015
Where:  Melbourne, Australia
Tickets: Buy NOW!

The conference will bring together ideas from around the world with a focus on promoting secular ideals.  We will continue the conversation following on from the London conference on Apostasy, Sharia Law and Secularism, held in February 2015.  The Melbourne conference will address freedom of thought, freedom of expression, religious persecution, religious freedom and countering religious extremism.

Conference Secularism in the Modern World Melbourne 2015

For more information and expressions of interest
please send your email to:

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Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church
110 Grey St, East Melbourne VIC 3002


9.30 am – 4.10 pm

9.30 am – Registration
10.30 am – Welcome & Introduction to Keynote Speaker
10.35 am – Keynote Speaker
11.00 am – Morning tea
11.20 am – Panel – Secularism in Australia
12.00 pm – Audience Q&A
12.30 pm – Lunch
1.30 pm – Panel – Secularism Around the World
2.10 pm – Audience Q&A
2.40 pm – Afternoon Tea
3.00 pm – Workshops 1 & 2
3.30 pm – Workshops 3 & 4
4.00 pm – Closing remarks
4.10 pm – END



Professor Spencer Zifcak

Professor Spencer Zifcak is Allan Myers Professor of Law and Director of the Institute of Legal Studies at Australian Catholic University.  He obtained his Ph.D from the London School of Economics and Political Science.  His principal areas of research and teaching are in public international law, comparative constitutional law, international human rights law and international organization.  Professor Zifcak will speak about the vexed relationship between freedom of expression and protection against racial and religious discrimination.


Rosslyn Ives Council of Australian Humanist Societies

Rosslyn Ives is a former science teacher and has been active in the Humanist Society of Victoria since 1990. Rosslyn has held a range of positions in Victoria and nationally with the Council of Australian Humanist Societies. Her roles have included being a committee member, president and editor for the Victorian Humanist and the Australian Humanists publications. Rosslyn will speak about the history of secularism in Australia.

Lev Lafayette – President of Victorian Secular Lobby

Lev Lafayette is a systems administrator in high performance and scientific computing and a perpetual student with a growing number of postgraduate degrees.  An incorrigible long-term political activist, he’s been deeply involved in a number of mainstream and radical political organisations; this includes the Victorian Secular Lobby Inc., where he is the founding and continuing president.  His presentation is on ‘The Political Imperative of Secularism’.

Lara Wood – Coordinator of parent action group FIRIS

Lara Wood volunteers her time campaigning for parent action group Fairness In Religion In Schools (FIRIS). Like most parents in FIRIS, Lara got involved because she could not believe that child evangelists were in her daughter’s prep class. FIRIS is not associated with any organisation, political party, clique or faction. FIRIS organised in response to a series of events which created problems in the private lives of families across Victoria, but also in other states in Australia. Lara will speak about the achievements of FIRIS and plans looking forward.

Dr Paul Tonson – Administrator of the Pathways for Diversity Education in Schools

Paul Tonson is a member of the Uniting Church and of the Humanist Society of Victoria.  From a progressive Christian viewpoint he practices attentive listening with genuine curiosity.  He shared in developing the manifesto Reclaiming a Secular Australia – for an end to religious bias and privilege. His PhD (Deakin) explored the tension between inclusive and exclusive viewpoints in the Hebrew Bible and motivated him towards dialogue with Jews and Muslims and other faiths.  Government funding for presentations about both faith and freethought worldviews prompted Paul to initiate PathWays for Diversity Education Inc. (2015), through which young adults engage in conversations with year 10 students to encourage them to explore a range of worldviews.  Paul will speak about his Christian faith and spirituality in context to a secular pluralist society.

Ashraful Alam

Ashraful came to Australia in 2009 as a skilled migrant with his wife and 2 children.  He belongs to a generation of Bangladeshi’s who are indebted to the recently slain blogger Dr. Avijit Roy and the free-thinking movement Dr. Roy spearheaded. Blog site ‘Mukto-Mona’ and the free-thinking movement is a great source of rational nourishment for the Bangladeshi freethinking community.  An interpreter, translator and bookkeeper by profession, Ashraful has seen the contrast of the societies in which he has lived – rural Bangladesh; the urban middle class of Bangladesh; the migrant Muslim community in Australia; and the mainstream Australian society.  Ashraful has engaged with community groups in Australia, and has always been mindful to promote secular ideas against ethno-religious or nationalistic views.  Ashraful can speak about countering extremism in Australia.

Shubhajit Bhowmik

Shubhajit is a Bangladeshi blogger.  He started writing in 2008 on community blogs based in Bangladesh.  From 2010, Shubhajit became more active on Facebook and found the social network medium more suitable to reach a larger number of people.  Many of his written pieces can be found in the Bangladeshi blogs “Mukto-Mona” and “Dhormockery”, where traditional religions have been highly critisized logically with a touch of humour. Though he writes on different social and political issues, the involvement of religious fundamentalism has been one of the main focus of his writings.  Currently Shubhajit is a student living in Sydney.  Shubhajit will speak about the current situation in Bangladesh with the freethinking and secular movement.

Umair Baig

Umair Baig is a skilled migrant who has moved to Australia only a few months ago.  He was born in Pakistan in a Muslim family but religion never made sense to him.  In his teens Umair decided that he had to move to a secular country and finally this year in July he achieved his dream and moved to Australia.  Umair is a Certified Accountant by profession and has worked and lived in Dubai as well as Pakistan.  He also set up and runs a facebook group that focuses on secularism.  Umair will speak about secularism and Pakistan.

Peter Farago

Peter Farago has been an active member of Refugee Action Collective-Vic for 15 years.  Deriving from his World War II and refugee experiences since 1939, he is a passionate supporter of human rights.  He came to Australia as a refugee from Hungary in 1950 and had his tertiary education in Melbourne on a Commonwealth Scholarship.  He taught Politics and History at Monash University Gippsland for 25 years and continues to fight for refugee rights and other progressive causes.  Peter will speak about his experience as a refugee and why he is a refugee advocate.


  1. Islam & Secularism
  2. Does multiculturalism support a secular Australia?
  3. Secularism in Bangladesh
  4. Beyond the limitations of our conventional paradigms


For more information and expressions of interest please send your email to: